Raymond Benson is perhaps best known as the author of six continuation Bond novels from 1997 to 2002. He also wrote three Bond film novelisations, and three short stories, as well as the seminal 1984 reference book, 'The James Bond Bedside Companion'. His fascinating career has also covered computer and role playing game designing and writing, teaching and writing about Film, writing plays, musical theatre production, video game novelisations and fifteen novels outside of Bond. The second entry in his acclaimed series of novels featuring the female adventuress, 'The Black Stiletto', entitled 'Black and White', has just been published. Above all, though, Raymond is a huge movie fan and he agreed to share some of his favourite 'misunderstood and forgotten' films for MIL. 

HOUR OF THE WOLF (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
Ingmar Bergman is well-respected and is seen as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but here in America it's only really cinephiles who know and appreciate his work. You're not going to see an Ingmar Bergman movie showing on network television. When I got into his movies in the '70s, you could only see his films at an arthouse theatre or on campus. Colleges would often show foreign films on campus and that's how I discovered Bergman. THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957) was my first Bergman film. I was a freshman in college and a friend said to me "Have you seen this movie? You gotta see it!". So, he dragged me there and it knocked me out. From then on I was a huge Bergman fan.

When people look at Bergman's work, they tend to put HOUR OF THE WOLF in a lower ranking. I think it's one of his best and is one of my favourites. It's his only real horror film. It's about demons, vampires or witches - you're never really sure what the people who live in the castle are. But they can crawl across walls! It has two of Bergman's best actors in it - Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman. Like all of his movies in the '60s, it's a very challenging movie. It deals with the psyche and nervous breakdowns. You're never really sure if what Max Von Sydow is seeing is real or in his head. The way the film is structured, it begins like a documentary with Liv Ullman addressing the camera and explaining that this is the story of what happened to her husband and that he has disappeared. The movie is the flashback.

I just find it very creepy and affecting. If you're a horror film buff, it's a must-see, even if you don't like Bergman or you don't like art films.

This would make a good companion piece to HOUR OF THE WOLF. They're very similar. The ambiguity of LOST HIGHWAY is also similar to THE SHINING (1980). Here in America, ambiguity is kind of a bad word. They don't mind unhappy endings or weird stuff but people have a problem when things are not fully explained to them. Ambiguity is an element that appeals to me. I like to be able to put my own interpretation onto something. I don't mind going to a movie and being challenged.

LOST HIGHWAY (David Lynch, 1997)
LOST HIGHWAY is a movie that was ignored when it came out. It had been a few years since Lynch's last film, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), which was seen as a disaster although I quite liked it. That movie deserves a place on this list as it is very underrated. Lynch himself believes the original four hour version is the definitive cut because it includes all the other 'Twin Peaks' characters. I think that version would have been a better movie.

LOST HIGHWAY is very similar to MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) and INLAND EMPIRE (2006) in that they are all about doppelgangers exchanging places. It's almost a trilogy. He seems to like that theme a lot. Like most of Lynch's personal works, it's very creepy and has this foreboding atmosphere throughout. You're not quite sure what's going on, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat with the mystery of it. His use of dark and light is striking, and this is almost a neo-noir, but a very surreal one. You have to be in tune with David Lynch and know what to expect in order to enjoy his films. It's one of his trippy movies, and I guess it's an acquired taste. The scene in which Robert Blake tells Bill Pullman he is at his house is brilliantly bizarre.

This would make a good companion piece to HOUR OF THE WOLF. They're very similar. The ambiguity of LOST HIGHWAY is also similar to THE SHINING (1980). Here in America, ambiguity is kind of a bad word. They don't mind unhappy endings or weird stuff but people have a problem when things are not fully explained to them. Ambiguity is an element that appeals to me. I like to be able to put my own interpretation onto something. I don't mind going to a movie and being challenged.


All of Paul Schrader's work is underrated. He has never achieved the success that he deserves. AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980) is probably his most succesful film. MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS (1985) is my favourite of his films. It's an absolutely brilliant film, and another one that was not very noticed.

The story behind DOMINION is an interesting one. Schrader was hired to make a prequel to THE EXORCIST (1973). At first he didn't want to do it, but he started to put his own spin on it, being from a strict Calvinist background. He made a very psychological, meticulously paced mystery. The studio saw it and said "We can't release this!". They took the same screenplay and gave it to Renny Harlin. He filmed it as EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) and it came out first. It was a disaster and I think it's an awful film. But what is cool about these two movies is that you can see two different interpretations of the same screenplay. DOMINION got released after THE BEGINNING bombed and was trashed by critics. It didn't do any business either, but the critics liked it for the most part. I think it's the second best EXORCIST movie (after the original). Stellan Skarsgard is great as Father Merrin (much better than he was in THE BEGINNING).

THE MIST (Frank Darabont, 2007)
This movie blew me away. I designed and wrote a computer game based on the Stephen King novella back in 1985, so I was very familiar with the story. I even had a telephone conversation with King about the game at that time. So when they made a movie of it, I was one of the first people in line to see it. I thought it was excellent, one of the best horror films of the last ten years. It was scary, very well done and it had you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The ending is probably the ultimate horror ending. A lot of people hated the movie because of the ending. But why does a horror film have to have a happy ending? That is what horror is! No happy endings! If you like horror films and you like monsters and giant insects (!), and relentless suspense I highly recommend this movie.

It was directed by Frank Darabont, who also wrote and directed THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999), so no stranger to Stephen King, and this is a very good adaptation. I know King was very pleased with it. This is probably my favourite King adaptation, although I do like CARRIE (1976). I love THE SHINING (1980) but I hesitate to call it a Stephen King adaptation. As he always did, Kubrick took the source material and reshaped it and moulded it into his own vision. The story he wanted to tell. When it first came out in 1980, a lot of new King fans didn't like the movie. I was a huge fan of the book, and I still believe it to be his best book. When I first saw the film I was bewildered, but as time went on I grew to like the movie better than the book. Kubrick tapped into something much more interesting. THE MIST is more locked into what King does.

EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

I saw a press preview of it here in Chicago with my wife. The audience seemed to like it and I turned to my wife and said ''This is Kubrick's most accessible movie. It's going to make a lot of money." Boy, was I wrong! At least in this country, people stayed away from it in droves and it got very mixed reviews. I think it's his most misunderstood movie, which considering his career is saying a lot. The ambiguity threw people, and I think after twelve years without seeing a new Kubrick movie, many people had forgotten the way he makes movies. With the star power involved (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) people went in expecting something totally different to what it was. And as in all cases when you don't get what you expect, you have a bad reaction. The film was marketed as a really sexy movie but it's really not. In fact, the eroticism is purposefully spooky and unpleasant. Also, I think many didn't get the fact that much of the film is in a dream state, and that a lot of the events are just in Tom Cruise's head. It's a movie for older people too. Which is interesting because it was the young people who got 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY back in 1968! These same people thirty years later were the same people who 'got' EYES WIDE SHUT. It's a mesmerising film. I get something new from it every time. I still maintain that it is an unfinished movie, though. Kubrick died four months before it was released, and you know he would have tinkered with it like he always did. He would have been making changes until after the opening weekend! Maybe it's a flawed masterpiece. But it's still a masterpiece.

A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
This is another movie where people went in expecting one thing and they didn't get it. It was Steven Spielberg, science fiction...they thought they were going to get a heartwarming story about a robot boy - a feelgood Spielberg movie in the tradition of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982). What they got was a Stanley Kubrick movie, interpreted by Spielberg. Except for the look of the film, which is very Spielbergian, with lots of natural light and soft-focus (Kubrick would have made it sharp and clear like he always did), this is a Kubrick movie in terms of themes, mood, tempo, and vision. The film has some of Kubrick's signature traits - ambiguity and irony. He likes to turn a concept on its head and throw it at the audience. Kubrick made a career out of making people uncomfortable, and this is no exception. I think it's one of Steven Spielberg's best movies and it is totally underrated. It's a heartbreaking, sad and depressing story that gets me every time. I guess people found the way Haley Joel Osment was treated like a pet in the movie disturbing. But it tied into the questions Kubrick was asking about what constitutes real love.

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)
This was a movie that bewildered a lot of people. I saw it when I was in college. I was not a David Bowie fan at that time. I appreciated his music, but I didn't own any of his albums. This was 1976, and he was pretty huge. When I saw this movie (his first lead acting role), I got interested in his music. I went out immediately and bought 'Station to Station' (1976), which was the current album, and had a still from the movie on the front cover. I also bought 'Low' (1977) when it came out, and it also had a still from the movie on the front cover. I fell in love with those two albums and then went back and rediscovered his earlier music.

Bowie was striking in the film. He had a lot of charisma and screen presence. You couldn't take your eyes off him when he was onscreen. He was perfectly cast in the role. I think they originally wanted Peter O'Toole.

It's a challenging movie. It's non-linear, it jumps time-frames and is very dense. It's confusing at times. You have to see the film a few times in order to fully understand it. Candy Clark is also great in it.

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is not for everybody. It's not your typical science fiction movie. The Walter Tevis book reminds me of the works of Philip K. Dick and also Robert Heinlein's 'Stranger in a Strange Land' (1961). It's a flawed film, but it has such brilliant sequences and imagery in it. Only Nicolas Roeg could have made this film. His first three films as sole director - WALKABOUT (1971), DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) and this - are all great. I also love the music by Stomu Yamashta, and I got into his music after the movie.

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2001)
I've loved everything that the Coen brothers have ever done (except their next two missteps, 2003's INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and 2004's THE LADYKILLERS). This is one that didn't receive the acclaim it should have. I think it's one of their better movies. It's very much a film noir, and beautifully shot in black and white by Roger Deakins. He was nominated for an Academy Award. It's the moodiest and most depressing of all their movies, yet it does have a black, ironic sense of humour that is really funny. Some people don't get black humour. I guess it requires an ability to think abstractly. Billy Bob Thornton is wonderful in it, and the plot is very good. It's very underrated.

THE KING OF COMEDY (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
This is the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and it is a film that just died. Again, it's a black comedy that made people uncomfortable. Most people didn't understand or appreciate it. De Niro is just brilliant in it, one of his very best performances. Scorsese has actually gone on record to say that it is his favourite De Niro performance. He is so creepy in the film but funny at the same time. I love the scene where De Niro is imagining he is interviewing famous people in his basement and his mom is shouting "Rupert! What are you doing down there?". Hilarious. They wanted Johnny Carson to co-star in the film, but he turned it down. Jerry Lewis is great in it, and basically plays himself, as it is rumoured he is a cantankerous guy offscreen. I rank the film very high in Scorsese's filmography. With the popularity of acerbic TV comedies like 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' now, I bet THE KING OF COMEDY would be a hit if it was released now.

STARDUST MEMORIES (Woody Allen, 1980)
Woody Allen is one of my favourite filmmakers and one of the greatest screenwriters who ever lived. STARDUST MEMORIES came out after the huge success of ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979). It's another black comedy where the audience didn't understand what the filmmaker was going for. Allen pays homage to Ingmar Bergman a lot in his movies, but here it's Federico Fellini. In fact, this is his 8 1/2 (1963). It's about a filmmaker trying to come to grips with the kind of films his audience wants him to make and the kind of films he wants to make. There are fantasy sequences, and as his character in the movie is someone who hates his fans, people thought Woody was thumbing his nose at his actual fans. Which wasn't true. He was just playing a character. There are some brilliant sequences in the movie. For example, the opening sequence. Woody is sitting on a dark, dismal, depressed train amongst ugly, starving passengers, and the only sound you can hear is that of a ticking clock. He looks out of the window and you can see another train. On this train, there is a big party going on with people laughing and drinking champagne, and a very young Sharon Stone blowing him a kiss! As his train stops and starts to leave again, he wants to change trains! There's another great sequence with Charlotte Rampling, who is put in a mental hospital in the film. He has the camera close up to her face and does a series of little jump-cuts as she is performing a monologue. It's so affecting, and the most powerful scene in the piece. It's not your typical Woody Allen movie but I'm glad he experiments. He puts out a new film every year, and they are like little gems. Some of them are great, some of them are good, some of them are mediocre. But they're always interesting. He's one of America's national treasures. STARDUST MEMORIES is a neglected, underrated Allen movie, and actually one of his personal favourites.

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick, 2011)
This is only the fifth Malick movie in four decades!. A lot of people did like this movie, and it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It got mostly terrific reviews but I don't think that many people actually saw it in theatres. It appeared on DVD, Blu-ray and on Movie on Demand quite quickly and I think this is where most people saw it. It was still playing in some theatres!

Terrence Malick is a filmmaker who does not make conventional films. He is a cinematic poet, and you need to know that before you watch any one of his films. Malick is not interested in linear narratives. He is more interested in emotions, nature, life and death, and people trapped in a cycle of life as it were. THE TREE OF LIFE is not a movie, but something that you 'experience'. It's more like a treatise on the nature of existentialism. It's a film that defies description, which makes recommending it to people very difficult. There were more walk-outs during the screening of the movie that I attended than any other movie I have seen in a long time. But I personally thought it was one of the most profound and moving experiences I have ever had at the cinema, in a similar way to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). And strangely, it is EVEN better on the small screen. It's a film you should watch alone or with your significant other. Different people will take away different things. It's a film that speaks to you personally.

CUTTER'S WAY (Ivan Passer, 1981)
I love this film! This was made at the end of the '70s, just as New Hollywood was giving way to something else. The late '60s and the whole of the '70s had been the age of the auteur, of artistic freedom and taking chances. An 'inmates running the asylum' kind of situation. The failure of HEAVEN'S GATE (1980) and other movies made the studios clamp down on giving power to directors.

It was first released as CUTTER AND BONE here in the US and it bombed. It played a week and the studio pulled it out of the theatres. They tried to figure out what happened since they felt it was a good movie with commercial prospects, and they decided it must have been the title and the marketing campaign. The film was received quite well critically, but it was a movie that just slipped in under the radar and not many people saw. Jeff Bridges is good in it, but the real highlight is JohnHeard's performance. He is absolutely great in a performance comparable to Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969). Both are kind of off the fringe, ne'er do well characters. You have never seen Heard do something like this before or since. It's a murder mystery that goes unresolved, which is realistic, because that is often the case in real life. This is a movie about obsession and what a friend will do for a friend. I just find it a very powerful, understated movie.

BREWSTER MCCLOUD (Robert Altman, 1970)
This came out only a few months after the great success of M*A*S*H* (1970), and like most of the movies I have talked about, it bombed! It's one of Altman's black comedies, and one of his many ensemble movies, with a cast that appeared in quite a few of his subsequent movies. Bud Cort (from HAROLD AND MAUDE, 1971) plays a kid who has invented a flying machine and lives in the newly-built Houston Astrodome. I am from Texas, and the Astrodome was a big deal for me. It has a great cast. This was Shelley Duvall (THE SHINING, 1980)'s first movie. Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) plays a music conductor in the opening credits, complete with red shoes. It has a running theme of flight throughout, and is such a wacky, of-the-wall, unique movie. I can't think of another movie quite like it. You have to sign up for the ride and just go for it. Some people are just not going to get it. The movie begins with Rene Auberjonois as a teacher in a classroom, who throughout the movie slowly becomes a bird! I think the movie is really about freedom of expression, of standing up to those who try to stop you from expressing yourself. The film is finally available on DVD now here in the US, so people should check it out.

SPIDER (David Cronenberg, 2002)
This is a Cronenberg film that came and went. I didn't even realise it was out in the theatres and missed it, and I had been a Cronenberg fan since SHIVERS (1975)! I finally caught it on DVD. I hadn't felt that he had been at his best in the '90s. He had moved away from the horror genre and was going in more surreal directions. The films were challenging and interesting, but I am not sure they worked as well as his other movies. SPIDER is a return to form. It's about a mentally ill person, played by Ralph Fiennes, with a secret that proves to be devastating. Fiennes is incredible in the film, it's one of his best performances. It's a highly effective, mannered, nuanced piece of acting. The film is many things at once - it's a psychological drama/ thriller, a mystery, a horror movie and a character study.

LICENCE TO KILL (John Glen, 1989)
Before the release of QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), this was easily the most controversial James Bond film. LICENCE TO KILL itself had replaced ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969). I am continually defending this film to my fellow 007 fans. I don't understand the negative reaction the film got from them, especially the 'serious' ones who appreciate the original novels. LICENCE TO KILL captures Ian Fleming's James Bond. If you combine the novel 'Live and Let Die' (1954) and the short story 'The Hildebrand Rarity' (from the 'For Your Eyes Only' collection, 1960) you will see Bond in a very dark, violent and grim light, as he is in the movie. Timothy Dalton's 007 in this movie doesn't have a sense of humour and he is on a revenge mission. He is playing Fleming's version of the character. It was an edgy, exciting film, and a refreshing change to the more light-hearted era that had begun with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). I had very much liked Dalton's first Bond film, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987), but they went all-out with this film. It has one of the most interesting plots of any Bond film, with some nice surprises and twists, and owes something to Kurosawa's YOJIMBO (1961) with Bond infiltrating the bad guys and sowing dissent. In 1989 I was in New York and was the Chairman of The Mystery Writers of America. I was on the Committe awarding the 'Edgar' for Best Film, and all of us thought LICENCE TO KILL was one of the best of the year and nominated it.

I think with CASINO ROYALE (2006) and Daniel Craig's characterisation of Bond, they were trying to make a similar change to the series. Audiences weren't ready in 1989, but they were ready over fifteen years later. Craig is excellent, but to my mind, Timothy Dalton's Bond is the most accurate depiction of Fleming's Bond that we've had.

Paul Rowlands' essay on EYES WIDE SHUT.

Raymond chatted with me via telephone on 10th April 2012. I would like to thank him for the generous use of his time.

Raymond's books can be ordered from his website or from Amazon. Check him out on Facebook.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.


Neil Jones is an exciting new Welsh-born independent filmmaker, whose three feature films and short films have already traversed genres such as biography, Spaghetti Western, vampire horror and thriller. Alongside frequent collaborator Stuart Brennan, who with Neil is the co-owner of Burn Hand Films, he is a resourceful, imaginative and restless talent just waiting to be discovered by the masses. I spoke to him about his latest release, THE REVEREND (2011), a comic-horror with a difference, and with an opening cameo from cult legend Rutger Hauer.   

Can you talk about the graphic novel that inspired THE REVEREND? Who wrote it?
I had just done a boxing film called RISEN (2010). It was my dream project about a real boxer from my hometown, Howard Winstone, and my first big movie. It was more arthouse than THE REVEREND. For my next film, I wanted to get as far from a true story as I could go. I had started writing THE REVEREND around 2007 or 2008, and hadn't intended making it at that time. I just got the idea and had to write it down. Actually, it was me that wrote the graphic novel, and I came up with it and the film at the same time. It will come out in early 2013. It will be pretty much the same as the film, but when it's on paper you are not limited in what you can do by a budget!

How much of THE REVEREND was inspired by your own background in preaching?

When I was 20, I moved to Chicago from the UK and went to Theology School, with the idea of possibly going into preaching. I'm not religious anymore but I have always been fascinated by the stories in The Bible, especially The Book of Job. I always thought it would make a great film. Unfortunately, I didn't have the massive Hollywood budget to make a historical film, so I decided to place the story in a modern context.

Were you influenced by any particular horror films?
I was going with a more Spaghetti Western vibe to be honest, not so much a horror one. Spaghetti Westerns are my favourite genre, and Sergio Leone my favourite director. I love the simple concepts of the films and they work so well. When I was writing THE REVEREND, I fell in love with the concept of having the man with no name coming into a small town and cleaning up the bad guys be a reverend, a man of the cloth. Clint Eastwood's PALE RIDER (1985) was a film that really influenced me. I also wanted to make a horror film with vampires, so I thought it would be a neat little twist to mix the two genres of Spaghetti Western and vampire horror film.

That explains the soundtrack. It has a Spaghetti Western vibe.
Chris King, the guy who did the music, is my close friend from my hometown. I've always told him that he should have come from the Deep South in America! I think the music - Deep South, bluesy, acoustic music in a very British film set in Wales - has thrown some people off but it was the sound and vibe I was going after.

In what ways did you want to make a different vampire film?
I didn't want to make a traditional vampire film where they are allergic to sunlight and garlic, and where they had teeth that came from nowhere when they are about to bite someone. I never could get my head around the teeth thing. Where do they come from and where do they go? What I did know was that drinking blood is something that animals do. We went for human flesh getting torn and not just puncture wounds. Vampires are obviously supernatural, but I thought let's just try to make it as realistic and brutal as we can. Stuart and I also researched how addictions like alcoholism affect people. The word 'vampire' is not even mentioned in the film, except in the cafe scene at the beginning.

Was it your intention to have a lot of different regional accents in the town? Were you trying to create the idea of the town as populated fom people from all over the UK?
It wasn't intentional, it just worked out that way. But I didn't bother me because I wanted to create an air of mystery about the town. It doesn't even have a name.

Had you worked with a lot of the cast before?
Yeah, I had worked with a lot of the lesser-known actors before, but not the better known ones. I wrote Emily Booth's part especially for her (the prostitute), because I wanted to see her do something that wasn't just just horror comedy. She's great in the movie.

Was it a conscious decision to make some of the characters down and dirty?
It's not a nice world we're creating in the film. The idea of a reverend coming into a town and beating up the bad guys is ridiculous, especially with Stuart, who is baby-faced and well-mannered. I knew I had to make it gritty and grimy at times or it just wasn't going to work for people. I thought if we are going to be light-hearted in a scene, then let's be light-hearted. And if we're going to be dark, then let's be really dark.

In the balancing of the tones, were you inspired by any specific films or filmmakers?
I don't think there was a specific influence, but like a lot of British people, as a kid I watched a lot of gritty TV dramas. They were in the back of my head. British filmmakers get a lot of stick for being bleak all the time, but I happen to like those kinds of films. That said, our film is also very commercial.

How did you manage to get Rutger Hauer?
The story is quite cool. Stuart Brennan and I came up with a list of actors we wanted, and we were lucky as we got about 90% of them. Rutger was never on the list because it was short notice and we honestly thought we would never get him because of our budget level. Our executive producer, Lyndon Baldock at Templeheart, said "Just find out if he's available. You never know!" So we phoned his agent and much to our surprise he was kind of interested. We set up a Skype call with him, he looked at some of our films and then to our amazement he said yes!

Many have asked me why he is only in the film for five minutes but the answer is that we only had him for a day. Obviously, we would have liked to have had him for more.

How was he to work with?
He is cool, a total pro. He knew it was a low-budget film and he got stuck in, it was never an issue for him. It was a really nice experience.

Did you get to talk to him about some of his films?
He came into Cardiff a day early to go through some script stuff with us. You never know with these iconic actors. Is it going to be okay to talk to them about their biggest films? But my attitude was "If I am sitting in a bar with Rutger Hauer, there is no way I am going to let him go without asking about BLADE RUNNER (1982)!" He was cool about it and actually enjoyed talking about the film.

Why did you think he would be great in the role of the 'Withstander'?
Rutger as The Devil is just as cool idea! I've been a fan of his for so long. It's kind of surreal that he's in our movie.

How did you come to cast 'East Enders' star Shane Richie as the evil pimp? It's kind of a left-field choice.
Shane had played a London promoter in RISEN about two years before. It was a role he could do standing on his head. He had a good time and we became friends. He told me that if I ever had a role for him that was totally different from what he was used to, I should let him know. I think he's tired of playing the 'cheeky chappies' and because of his success on 'East Enders', it's all he gets offered, which is a shame, because he's a great actor. I knew he could pull it off, but if I'm honest, I wasn't sure the audience would accept him in such a different part. He is brilliant in the film, and steals the show. We just let him go for it. He was like a whirlwind, so prepared and full of ideas. It made my job easy. I remember the crew were looking at the monitors with an expression that said "This is weird!" Nobody had ever seen him do anything like this before. It was a really brave thing for him to do.

We only had him for one night. Shane's a workaholic. He was doing 'East Enders' in the day and worked with us in the night. On top of that, his wife was due to have a baby the next day!

Did you purposely keep his character in the shadows? It took me a while to recognise him.
Because his character is so gritty and dark we wanted to keep the light very low and we kept pulling the focus in to give his scenes that surreal look. It ties in with his drugged-up state.

Wasn't another actor lined up for the part originally?
Actually, Tom Savini was interested in the part. He read the script 2 1/2 or 3 years ago and liked it and wanted to do it. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out logistically.

How did you come to work with Mads Koudol, who plays Viking?
Mads has done loads of films. Years ago I produced a gritty drama that unfortunately got put on the shelf. He acted in it because he knew the director.Mads is quite well-known because he did a different movie that was also directed by a Welshman, MERANTAU (2011). The director's name is Gareth Evans, and I've known him for years. He's from the next town to me. Gareth is famous now because he directed THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011).

I wanted Viking to be ridiculously over the top and Mads was absolutely fearless. The character is a hyped-up lunatic, like something out of MAD MAX 2 (1981). His scene really works. In hindsight, I would have liked to have done more with the character.

The end fight in the barn with Viking was nerve-racking and exciting. It was my first time filming a fire stunt scene and we had a stunt guy called Jude Poyer who was set on fire from head to toe for 30 seconds. He acted like he was making a cup of tea!

Where did you shoot the movie? How long was the shoot?
We shot it in South Wales, where I am originally from. I now live in London. We shot for five weeks, and then came back for five days to do the scenes with Rutger and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and a couple of pick-ups.

How was the film financed?
It was financed completely by a company called Templeheart Films who had financed some of RISEN. I just pitched THE REVEREND to them and after they had the read the script, they decided to come in for full, which is really nice because usually on independent films the finance comes from different sources.

How did your working relationship with Stuart Brennan start?
We met about ten years ago at University. I had no aspirations to be a filmmaker originally, but Stuart was an actor who had gone out with a video camera and made a film for no money. I saw it and was quite impressed with it. I liked the energy that he had and I wanted to get involved. It's just kind of snowballed and ten years later here we are still making films.

Why do you think you work so well together?
We're very different personalities. I guess we complement each other. After the hard time we had trying to get my dream project RISEN made, we really trust each other. After we finished the movie we thought "If we can make that, we can make anything!"

What were the most challenging aspects of making THE REVEREND?
Like all low-budget movies, it's tough because you never really have enough money to do what you want to do, so you're always making small compromises along the way. It isn't the best feeling for a director. Trying to get everything shot in five weeks was tough, even though that is actually a long time for a low-budget movie. It helped that I had everything planned out in my head.

What were the most fun aspects of the shoot?
Apart from Rutger, Shane and all the actors, I also enjoyed working with Tamar Hassan. We had him for five or six days, and again, he has so much energy and so many ideas. I always have strong ideas but it's fun to be able to bounce ideas off the actors. It becomes infectious and the crew feeds off it.

How do you feel about the critical reaction to the movie?
On RISEN I was devastated by any bad review, but you have to grow a thick skin in this business. I don't take it personally now. Some critics didn't like the mixing of genres in the film and the different tones. They said the film lacks focus and solid direction. I had a great cast and some great ideas, and I wanted to put them all together. The film mightn't have come out perfect but I think we did what we set out to do. There's been no middle ground with this movie. People seem to either love or hate it. I kind of like having a split opinion!

Can you talk about some of your future projects?
Last summer I directed a slasher movie in Spain called DERANGED with Craig Fairbrass from CLIFFHANGER (1993). We've just finished post-production. I'm developing a thriller with Tamar Hassan. There's a possibility of doing a film in Australia. I have done two horror films in a row and would like to do something different.

What are your goals for the future?
The goal is to keep making films that inspire me intellectually as well as visually, and to keep making them bigger and better.

Can you see yourself moving to L.A. to further your career?
As long as I can find finance for the films I want to make, I don't feel the need to move to L.A. If you've got a camera, you can go anywhere in the world. I'd like to make a film in Asia, for example. But my dream is to make a really cool Western.

Which filmmakers from the past and present do you enjoy?
As I mentioned Leone is my favourite. I guess nobody will ever make films like he did nowadays, but it would be great if they did. I grew up watching Hitchcock. His films are so complex but he makes it look so effortless. How could you not be inspired by that? I also love Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. I loved his 'Dark Knight Trilogy'.

I spoke to Neil by telephone on 20th August 2012. I would like to thank him for his time.

Thanks to Richard S. Barnett.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and other sites, has written unpublished novels and unfilmed screenplays, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. 


Seth Swirsky is a man who defines the terms 'restless' and 'creative'. At the age of 20 he had sold his first song to another artist and went on to write hits for such talents as Smokey Robinson, Taylor Dayne, Celine Dion and Air Supply. He then went solo and also began a side-project called The Red Button. An avid baseball fan and collector, he has written books on the subject. In 2007 he directed a short film called THE LAST GIANT, about major league baseball player Harry 'The Horse' Danning. Seth's biggest passion is for The Beatles, the band he fell in love with at an early age and who inspired him to become a songwriter and a musician. I talked to him about his eight-year odyssey to make the hugely enjoyable, fascinating documentary BEATLES STORIES - A FAB FOUR FAN'S ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP (2011).      

How did the idea for 'Beatles Stories' come about?
I was in Liverpool in 2004 because I had released my first album 'Instant Pleasure' and been invited to play at The Cavern Club. I was thrilled! One day I took the Magical Mystery Tour bus ride, and we stopped at each Beatles location for 10 or 12 minutes and just hung out. The guide for the day was a man named Eddie Porter, and I would always go straight to him and ask him to tell me side-stories he hadn't told everybody as part of the tour. He let me film him with my hand-held camera and he told me some great stories. One of them was about Yoko and Sean Lennon (who was eight at the time) visiting the Strawberry Fields Children's Home and Sean touching John's face on a 'Double Fantasy' poster on the wall. Eddie had been so touched at the time that he started to cry his eyes out. He got emotional telling me the story too, and it's actually in the film.

Afterwards, I started to wonder how many more amazing stories like this were out there. When I got back to L.A. I looked up May Pang (John Lennon's girlfriend during 1973-75) and started to correspond with her. She came to L.A. one weekend and let me film her as she showed me some of the John-related locations. It was quite amazing. I now had two interviews on film.

Later when I was going to Nashville I decided to try and get in touch with Felix Cavaliere (The Young Rascals). He agreed to an interview, and now I had three people! These got me Peter Noone (Herman's Hermits), which then got me Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) and Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys).

At what point did you realise you might have a movie?
When I shot Peter Noone I realised how unique an interview this was. I had never made a movie before, but then at a certain point I hadn't written a song or written a book either!

Was it your intention to make this a movie accessible to everybody?
When I was making the movie I was thinking of two people. The first was my son, who was 13 or 14 when I started the film, and was into the likes of Justin Bieber and Eminem. The second was Chris Carter, my DJ friend who knows everything about The Beatles, down to their shoe sizes. I wanted to make something both of them would enjoy, in the same way The Beatles wanted everybody to enjoy their music. Some of my die-hard Beatle fan friends found something new in the film, which made me happy.

How did you choose your interview subjects?
To me it wasn't just about getting stars in the movie. Some of the people in the movie are people you will never have heard of. It was always about the stories they had to tell. Some of the people were people recommended to me by people I know. Some were people I looked up on the Internet. Some of the experiences were amazing, like Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay letting me play George Harrison's guitar, which he owns.

Why do you think so many people were eager to tell their 'Beatles Stories'?
I think they responded to my passion for The Beatles, which reminded them of their own passion. I mean, the likes of Jon Voight, Art Garfunkel and Sir Ben Kingsley don't usually do films like this. They said yes because they loved The Beatles.

Did you get starstruck meeting any of your interviewees?
I don't really get starstruck because from my twenties I was writing songs for people like Smokey Robinson, Celine Dion, Air Supply, Taylor Dayne and Al Green. I know they are just people. But it was fun meeting these people. It was like going in a time machine back to my youth. Sitting there with Smokey Robinson and remembering 'Tears of a Clown' coming out in 1967 when I was only 7.

I can remember seeing MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), DELIVERANCE (1972) and COMING HOME (1978) when they came out, so meeting Jon Voight was amazing. I wasn't trying to write songs for anybody or become best buddies with anybody. I was just going to accept this gift they were offering -sharing their stories - in the time allotted. But sometimes things would just happen. I had a beer with Art Garfunkel in his office and chatted about what Simon and Garfunkel meant to the '60s. It was like surfing. I was only going to meet these people once and until the wave ran out, I was going to surf it all the way!

Were there any people you wanted to interview but you couldn't get?
I pretty much got everyone I wanted. The likes of Eric Clapton would have been great, but the situation never presented itelf.

Did you find you learned from any mistakes quickly as you went along?
One of the best decisions I made was to have a second camera hidden in a different part of the room. When it came to editing and I had to cut scenes because people went off tangent, I had another camera angle I could use. Another good idea was to try and mic everybody twice. I would have a lateral ear mic hooked up to them just in case the cordless mic ran out of battery.

Sometimes the filming might be too light or too dark. I had to think on the fly. When I interviewed Justin Hayward I had to put a lamp next to him just to get more light. I always tried to film where beads of light were.

It was hit and miss sometimes. I had a sheet of questions for each person with questions they had not been asked before. Sometimes it was difficult to get the answers I wanted, and I would come up with a new question on the spot. Quite a few times this would be the question that got them enthused and talking. An example would be Jack Oliver, the Head of Apple Records. I came up with a question about a typical day at Apple Records and then came up with a question about what kind of day it was at Apple the day the 'Paul is Dead' rumour started. He told me the hilarious story of phoning Paul and waking him up in bed. Paul said 'I'm not dead' and told gim to 'Fuck off!' Sometimes repeating questions to get additional information or a better take for the editing got real results. This movie is all about the details, the tiny little things.

Did you finance the film yourself?
Yes, I did. I did everything by myself. All the music is my solo work or The Red Button recordings. The money didn't matter to me, although I don't have money to burn! The most important thing to me was sharing these wonderful stories with people and saying a thank you to the Beatles for giving me such a great life.

Did you put your career on hold for the eight years you were making the film?
No. The film was a high priority but I went about my life and career as usual.

How much did The Beatles influence your own songwriting?
I try to bring a sense of melody and optimism to my songwriting, which I got directly from The Beatles. This is especially true of my solo work, and my side project The Red Button with Mike Ruekberg. Listen to the song 'Cruel Girl' by The Red Button and you will hear the effect of The Beatles' huge influence on my songwriting.

Do you attribute The Beatles' influence to your success?
Very much so, and not just their music but also their outlook on life, particularly Paul's. Like him, I love finsishing a project as much as I love starting. I never start a project unless I can finish it. That's why BEATLES STORIES took eight years to film and edit. It took time to get it exactly right. So many people told so many great stories that it was difficult to decide what to leave out. There are outtakes and additional interviews on the DVD. The film also had to flow.

I was also inspired by the human quality of their music. They didn't mind if there was a mistake in a song or someone coughing or if a song like 'Her Majesty' suddenly cuts off. The Beatles also found a way to get things done, and didn't make music simply to make money. Those things also inspired me.

Can you remember the first Beatles song that you heard?
It was 'Please Please Me', and although it's one of my favourites, it's flipside 'Ask Me Why', is one of all my all-time favourites. I was about five years old at the time. My parents were really young when they had me. They were eighteen. They were buying all the '60s records as they came out. My three year old brother and I were in our own little world, playing 'Please Please Me' over and over again, jumping up and down on our bed.

Did you become a huge Beatles fan from that point?
Yes, I think so. Before 'Please Please Me' I was listening to artists like Ray Charles, but once I heard The Beatles, it was like "Forget about it!" There was nothing else in the world for me. By the time I was seven I was begging my parents for a guitar. They didn't have much money, so I scraped together 23 dollars to get my first guitar, which was a Giannini. When I had reached nine years old, I had learned how to play every Beatles song on my guitar.

Did you manage to see them in concert?
No, I was too young. They played in 1966. I almost saw George Harrison at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. I did manage to see the Wings Over America tour in 1975. After that, every time Paul McCartney played live in the US, I went to see him. I never got to see John in concert. I don't think he played many shows. I've also never seen Ringo.

Has your enthusiasm for The Beatles ever waned?
No, in fact I listen to them as much today as I did back then. The incredible thing about their music is that it's so rich in melody and ideas and so accessible that you want to listen to them over and over again. I listen to their music every day, and not as a fanatic. I have a huge record collection and love many different kinds of music. It's just that their music somehow finds its way into my world every day.

What's your favourite Beatles song?
Can I choose two? My favourites are 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane', which of course were released as a double-A side single. I was seven when the single came out, and they hit me at the right time. Even then I was sophisticated in terms of my knowledge and love of their music, but once I heard these two songs, they just took me to another level. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' just beats 'Penny Lane' by a hair because it's so deep. But listen to 'Penny Lane' when you're straight and tell me if it doesn't take you as high as any drug. If I am feeling good, I'll play the song and it will take me even higher.

How about your favourite Beatles album?
Boy, that's tough. Again I have two favourites, and they're both unique because they were both America-only releases. 'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967) was an EP, but it was expanded to an album in the US to include 'Hello, Goodbye', 'Baby, You're a Rich Man', 'All You Need is Love', 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and "Penny Lane'. I like the album better than 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967), and it's the one Beatles album that gives me the greatest pleasure from beginning to end. My other choice is ''Yesterday''... and Today' (1966), which was an American-only compilation of tracks that had not featured on the American versions of the 'Help' (1965), 'Rubber Soul' (1965) and 'Revolver' (1966) albums, plus the 'Day Tripper'/ 'We Can Work It Out' double-A side. When you look at the tracks on this album - 'Drive My Car', 'And Your Bird Can Sing', 'Yesterday' and 'Dr. Robert' - it's a better album than those three albums.

Why do you think the '60s was such a fantastic era?
It was a time of discovery. It was like a six-year old child playing with different paints and mixing up all the colours. Music was changing, the songwriting, the recording techniques.

For me the '60s was an amazing time because I was so young. It wasn't easy to be 17 in 1967. I was lucky to be 7. I didn't have to worry about being drafted to Vietnam or being pressured to take drugs by my peers. I just got all the colours and the light of the music and posters of the time. Aside from The Beatles, I was listening to bands like The Doors and Herman's Hermits and having a joyous time. Had I been 21 or something, the music would have meant something deeper and more personal to me. I was lucky to in that I grew up as the Beatles music matured and changed too.

Have you met all The Beatles?
I've met Paul and Ringo. I met George twice. I was too young to meet John.

Have you had any feedback on the movie from the surviving members and George and John's families?
I just heard back from Paul's camp that he watched the film and called it 'truly enjoyable'. It doesn't get much better than that! No-one will ever replace my Dad, but in terms of inspiration for the kind of art I make and my outlook on life, Paul will always be my greatest influence. That said, all The Beatles are fantastic artists and I love them.

For you, what was the philosophy of The Beatles?
I think the word 'Yeah!' (from 'She Loves You') sums up the first half of their career. 'Get up off the couch! Life is great! Say yes to life!' The word 'Love' sums up the second half of their career. Overall, love your life and try to bring love into your and other people's lives. I also love 'And in the end the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make' (from 'The End' on 'Abbey Road').

BEATLES STORIES can be ordered on DVD from Amazon or on DVD and Blu-ray from the film's site (signed copies are available).

The video to 'Cruel Girl' by The Red Button.

For more information on Seth's work.

I spoke to Seth by telephone on 4th September 2012 and would like to thank him for his time.   

Thanks to Richard S. Barnett.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and other sites, has written unpublished novels and unfilmed screenplays, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased.  


William Friedkin’s film THE EXORCIST is a phenomenon. When it burst into movie theatres in 1973, this story of demonic possession caused a sensation and was a massive box-office hit. It was by no means the first mainstream film on the topic. For example, Ken Russell’s 1971 film THE DEVILS played with the theme, and one year before THE EXORCIST, the supernatural horror film THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY had been a minor hit - featuring Shirley Maclaine, whom author William Peter Blatty based the character of Chris Macneil on. But this big budget feature carried such an impact that it became what these days is called a 'game changer' - it set the template for virtually every film on the subject for the next three decades, in the same way that George A Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) left its mark on virtually every subsequent zombie movie.

Over time, audiences would be treated to several additions to the EXORCIST saga, in the form of two sequels - EXORCIST II - THE HERETIC (1977) and THE EXORCIST III (1990, written and directed by Blatty); two versions of a prequel - EXORCIST - THE BEGINNING (2004) and DOMINION - PREQUEL TO 'THE EXORCIST' (2005), both featuring Stellan Skarsgard in the role of Lankaster Merrin, Max Von Sydow's role in the original film, and a spin-off, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1977), featuring a minor character from THE EXORCIST, astronaut Billy Cutshaw, as a main character, and written and directed by Blatty from two novels he authored telling the same story. However, apart from the official sequels, prequels and spin-offs THE EXORCIST spawned a legacy of features which were inspired by the success of the original film, which eventually became the first ever horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. THE EXORCIST’s influence extends its demonic hand until the present day, especially early on amongst exploitation film-makers, who soon responded in kind.

Part 1 and 2 0f this article.

Inevitably, THE EXORCIST would be parodied. For the most part, these spoofs have been short scenes in other comedies, such as Joan Greenwood afflicted by a spinning head and pea soup in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s bizarre version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (directed by ex-Warhol protégé Paul Morrissey in 1978). More recently we have had SCARY MOVIE 2 (2001) which, although taking pot-shots of dozens of movies, does have a dedicated spoof with 'Father McFeely' (James Woods) towards the beginning of the film. More recently, ST TRINIAN’S 2: LEGEND OF FRITTON’S GOLD (2009) has a short sequence with a 'possessed' girl levitating and talking in a growl.

Apart from these minor references in otherwise unrelated comedies, there has been one major spoof: 1990’s REPOSSESSED, directed by Bob Logan, which references numerous aspects of the original movie. The most obvious reference is its star: Linda Blair as Nancy Aglet, a housewife who had been possessed as a child, and finds that she is now possessed again by the same spirit. Coming to her rescue is Father Jebedaiah Mayii (Leslie Nielsen), which leads to a final confrontation similar to the original film, with Father Mayii squaring off against Nancy in a spirited spoof exorcism commentated by Jesse Ventura and wrestling pundit 'Mean' Gene Okerlund.

The following year gave us the horror comedy TEENAGE EXORCIST, in which 'scream queen' Brinke Stevens moves into a haunted mansion, only to be possessed, turning into a temptress searching for a virgin sacrifice. The cast includes the geeky Eddie Deezen and, as the priest Father McFerrin, Robert Quarry (better known for portraying Count Yorga in a brace of seventies vampire movies).

Footnote: there is an Italian film L'ESORCICCIO (1975), a comedy featuring an entire family being possessed. The central character is played by Ciccio Ingrassia, a comic actor who was once part of the duo Franco e Ciccio. 'Esorciccio' is a pun on his name (the Italian word for exorcist is actually esorcista). The film is also known as EXORCIST: ITALIAN STYLE, although it has not been widely screened outside of Italy. In its homeland, the film is not highly regarded and has a poor reputation. In fact, a correspondent on the Internet Movie Database notes that in Italy, one way to damn any film with faint praise is to say, “at least it wasn’t L’ESORCICCIO!”


William Peter Blatty, has claimed that the story of the original 'Exorcist' novel, though fictional, was partly inspired by true events, namely the exorcism of a young Lutheran boy, known only as 'Roland Doe', by the Jesuit priest Father William S Bowdern and his colleague Father Walter Halloran. It was only a matter of time before this true story was told, first in the book 'Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism' (1993) by Thomas B Allen, and then as a television documentary drama, IN THE GRIP OF EVIL in 1997. The story was retold in more opulent fashion in Steven E DeSouza’s 2000 film POSSESSED. This is a sober drama and not a horror movie, and is told in a matter-of-fact style befitting its basis in fact. Former 007 Timothy Dalton plays Father Bowdern (here renamed Bowden) with Jonathan Malen as the boy, here named 'Ronald Mannheim' (the true identity of the boy has never been revealed). This film avoids most of the tropes of the original EXORCIST but keeps its dignity throughout.

The story has recently been revisited in the 2010 video documentary THE HAUNTED BOY: THE SECRET DIARY OF THE EXORCIST, directed by Christopher Saint Booth and Philip Adrian Booth.

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), directed by Scott Derrickson, is a sober courtroom drama with the occasional bit of screaming horror (such as the possession and exorcism sequences, shown here in flashback). It stars Tom Wilkinson on trial for the death of a young woman during an exorcism. A fictional tale, it is loosely based on the case of Anneliese Michel of Bavaria, who died after a 'failed' series of exorcisms in 1976. At the core is an interesting meditation on science and faith, let down slightly by the over-the-top exorcism scenes and a few oh-so-conveniently spooky coincidences. It features good performances, especially by Wilkinson and Laura Linney. 

Annelise Michel's story has been the basis of two other films. The first of these, LA POSESIÓN DE EMMA EVANS (aka EXORCISMUS, 2010), is a drama directed Manuel Carballo, which fictionalises the story and updates it, and features Emma’s exorcism being secretly filmed. The film is a Spanish production but is filmed in English with an international cast including Stephen Billington and Doug Bradley. The second film is the much more exploitative ANNELIESE – THE EXORCIST TAPES (2011), a pseudo-documentary bu Jude Gerard Prest (also known as PARANORMAL ENTITY 3: THE EXORCIST TAPES). This was made by The Asylum, the studio behind 'mockbusters' like MEGASHARK VS CROCOSARUS and TITANIC II (both 2010). It purports to be the 'real' footage of the Anneliese Michel exorcism but is in fact entirely fake.

The tropes for exorcism films seem to be changing, and evolving their own mythologies, like vampire films before them. For example, the key exorcisms in both THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE and THE LAST EXORCISM take place in farm outbuildings, and both THE RITE (2011) and THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012) are set in Rome, feature 'exorcism schools' and both have gory scenes in hospitals...

And in the recent Tim Burton film DARK SHADOWS (2012), Eva Green’s evil witch character projects some familiar green liquid at Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp).

Nowadays, the influence of the EXORCIST continues with the current crop of 'found footage' movies, starting with THE LAST EXORCISM, and EXORCISMUS (2010, mentioned above) and the recent THE DEVIL INSIDE, which is also part of the found footage/pseudo documentary trend. It follows the exploits of a woman who becomes involved with a group of maverick young Catholic students in Rome who freelance as exorcists, with predictably tragic results.

To bring us right up to date, we have the latest from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House pictures, THE POSSESSION (2012) directed by Ole Bornedal. This features a box containing a dybbuk, a Jewish demon (also seen recently in David S Goyer’s 2009 film THE UNBORN). Here, the dybbuk physically possesses a young girl until being forced out during a Jewish exorcist ritual - an interesting twist on the subgenre.

Future offerings in the same genre include THE VATICAN TAPES, promised for 2014, which purportedly shows a Roman Catholic exorcism gone wrong (a very similar premise to THE DEVIL INSIDE). Things may also go full circle: there have long been rumours of a William Peter Blatty-scripted television series, reimagining THE EXORCIST for a modern audience.

There’s life in the old devil yet...

The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to the Devil in Cinema by Nikolas Schreck, Creation Books, 1971.
Fear without Frontiers: Horror Cinema Across the Globe, edited by Steven Jay Scneider, FAB Press, 2002.
Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St Martin’s Press, 1995.
Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World by Pete Tombs, Brainiac Books, 1997.

Plus the various pages on many of the films mentioned on Wikipedia and IMDB.

Further information on the true-life Anneliese Michel. Various websites have footage which purports to show the 'real' exorcism of Anneliese; I cannot comment on the veracity of these (seek them out and judge for yourself!)

There is a brief overview of Italian EXORCIST rips by Paul Yapp on the Classic Horror website.

A reappraisal of EXORCIST II by John and Paul Rowlands.

John C. Kerr started life as a graphic designer before mutating into a film archivist. He has had a passion for cinema ever since seeing Disney and 007 as a child. John has a Diploma in Film Studies, and although originally from Manchester, is now based in London.


William Friedkin’s film THE EXORCIST is a phenomenon. When it burst into movie theatres in 1973, this story of demonic possession caused a sensation and was a massive box-office hit. It was by no means the first mainstream film on the topic. For example, Ken Russell’s 1971 film THE DEVILS played with the theme, and one year before THE EXORCIST, the supernatural horror film THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY had been a minor hit - featuring Shirley Maclaine, whom author William Peter Blatty based the character of Chris Macneil on. But this big budget feature carried such an impact that it became what these days is called a 'game changer' - it set the template for virtually every film on the subject for the next three decades, in the same way that George A Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) left its mark on virtually every subsequent zombie movie.

Over time, audiences would be treated to several additions to the EXORCIST saga, in the form of two sequels - EXORCIST II - THE HERETIC (1977) and THE EXORCIST III (1990, written and directed by Blatty); two versions of a prequel - EXORCIST - THE BEGINNING (2004) and DOMINION - PREQUEL TO 'THE EXORCIST' (2005), both featuring Stellan Skarsgard in the role of Lankaster Merrin, Max Von Sydow's role in the original film, and a spin-off, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1977), featuring a minor character from THE EXORCIST, astronaut Billy Cutshaw, as a main character, and written and directed by Blatty from two novels he authored telling the same story. However, apart from the official sequels, prequels and spin-offs THE EXORCIST spawned a legacy of features which were inspired by the success of the original film, which eventually became the first ever horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. THE EXORCIST’s influence extends its demonic hand until the present day, especially early on amongst exploitation film-makers, who soon responded in kind.

Read Part 1.

Italy wasn't the only European country cashing in on the exorcism craze: others also made their own variants on the theme. Over in Germany, film director Walter Boos came up with MAGDALENA, VOM TEUFEL BESESSEN; this translates as MAGDALENA, POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL, the title under which, in 1976, it would be released in the United States. At this time, Boos was more famous for his softcore pornographic movies (including the SCHOOLGIRL REPORT series from 1970-80 and 1973’s LOVE IN 3-D) which gives an idea of the approach he takes with his filmmaking. The titular Magdalena (Dagmar Hedrich) is an orphan, living in a boarding school in Munich, who becomes possessed by a demon. She proceeds to commit assorted mayhem until the (anti-)climactic exorcism releases the demon within. THE EXORCIST’S legacy of regurgitation is here referenced in the scene where Magdalena vomits a Satanic black snake. Unlike the original film (but not unexpectedly, given Boos’ earlier work), there is copious nudity.

At the same time, that other hotbed of Eurotrash, Spain, was busy producing several EXORCISTs of its own. One of the most notable of these was EXORCISMO (1975), directed by Juan Bosch and starring horror icon Paul Naschy. In this, the victim is a young woman who is possessed by the spirit of her late father. Naschy, usually known for playing his werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky, is the 'good guy' here, a village priest who comes forward to confront the evil spirit and exorcise it.

Further Iberian horror, released the same year, was LA ENDEMONIADA (1975), which made its way Stateside in 1976 under the title DEMON WITCH CHILD. This was directed by another Spanish horror maestro, Amando de Ossorio, known for his BLIND DEAD series of horror movies and also the vampire thriller MALENKA (1969). Here, a gypsy’s curse on the daughter of a police commissioner leads to the possession and, ultimately, the exorcism (complete with a Linda Blair style head-spinning sequence). The star of the film is Marián Salgado, who, as a voice actor, had re-dubbed Linda Blair’s voice in the Spanish version of Friedkin’s film. Because of this, she was deliberately cast by D’Ossorio as the protagonist Susan Barnes to provide a link with the original.

And the Spanish weren’t finished. Also in 1975, EL JUEGO DEL DIABLO was made, directed by Jorge Darnell. This was released in English as DEVIL’S EXORCIST. The victim here is a teenager, Teresita (Imma De Santis), beset by visions and other phenomena, who starts to become violent, eventually committing matricide (although it is judged to have been an accident). Medical science (in the form of Dr Beneau, played by Euro-regular Jack Taylor) tries to help the troubled teen but to no avail, and a priest is eventually called... but is it too late?

One cannot talk about Spanish exploitation without mentioning the offbeat and incredibly prolific master Jess Franco. His twist on THE EXORCIST actually owes very little to the original, and Franco gives it his own idiosyncratic spin. The film in question was LES POSSÉDÉES DU DIABLE, which was actually produced in France; it features here mainly because it was released in English with the come-on title LORNA THE EXORCIST. It has also been released under the blatantly false title EXORCISM. The titular Lorna (Franco regular Pamela Stanford) is not an exorcist, but actually a succubus whose seductive yet baleful influence is extended over both a businessman, Patrick (Guy Delorme) and his teenage daughter Linda (Franco’s partner and frequent collaborator Lina Romay). It features none of the head-spinning or pea soup puking of many of the other films, nor does it feature any exorcisms! The film was remade in 2002 as JESS FRANCO'S 'INCUBUS'.

Franco has a distinct anti-clerical bent, and is particularly critical of the Catholic Church; because of this, a number of his films are thematically similar; for example, the picture LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN 9197) features a young woman who is accused of being possessed, and ends up being abused by agents of the Catholic Church (who are actually Satanists), the Devil himself, and the Inquisition.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of the continental rip-offs is SEYTAN, also known as THE TURKISH 'EXORCIST'. Turkey has achieved some notoriety in its blatant imitations of popular American films; there is a Turkish version of SUPERMAN (1978) called THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN (1979), and a Turkish STAR WARS (1977) (the latter featuring actual footage from the Lucas film, used without permission) called DUNYAYI KURTARAN ADAM (known in English as THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD, 1982). SEYTAN takes the EXORCIST template and places it in a uniquely Turkish setting.

Another film worthy of note is not from Europe but from Mexico: ALUCARDA, LA HIJA DE LAS TINIEBLAS (translates as 'Alucarda, the Daughter of Darkness', the film is also known simply as ALUCARDA). The title suggests a vampire film (ALUCARDA spelt backwards is ADRACULA), but this is in fact another anti-clerical picture produced in a Roman Catholic country. This tale of Satanism has thematic similarities to THE EXORCIST. It takes place in a Catholic orphanage, where two young girls come under the influence of Satan, causing all manner of mayhem (and possibly the record for the largest amount screaming in a single film) before a fiery climax.

We will round off this section by briefly mentioning the French film called CAUCHEMARS (Nightmares) and released in 1977. This is actually a France/Canada co-production filmed in Montréal with an English speaking cast. It is better known to American audiences as CATHY’S CURSE, and features a twelve year old girl possessed by the spirit of her aunt – homicide and the spouting of profanities ensue.

In the 1970s, the American networks were usually quick off the mark in producing made-for-television imitations of popular cinema films. However, they were much slower to come up with their take on the Friedkin movie, possibly because the explicitness and profanity of THE EXORCIST did not lend themselves well to prime-time US television. An imitation (of sorts) would eventually appear in 1977, under the title THE POSSESSED. This was intended as the pilot for a television series which did not materialise, and revolved around the exploits of Kevin Leahy (James Farentino), a former priest who is now tasked with fighting evil. In this pilot, he investigates sinister goings-on at a girls’ school (a popular venue for these sort of shenanigans), culminating in an exorcism scene with Leahy and the possessed victim facing off by the side of the school’s swimming pool. This being 1970s television, pea soup was out of the question, and instead the possessed woman spits a stream of nails at the unfortunate Farentino, who still manages to stoically save the day.

The year 1977 also gave us GOOD AGAINST EVIL, in which Andy Stuart, a writer (played by the splendidly-named Dack Rambo) and Father Kemschler (Dan O’Herlihy) team up to take on the forces of darkness. The villain here is the sinister Mr Rimmin (played by the ever-reliable Richard Lynch) who is grooming a young woman to be the bride of Satan. The film ends with Kemschler, an acknowledged exorcist, in a battle against the demonic forces. This was another failed pilot, but has a good pedigree, being directed by TV movie specialist Paul Wendkos and scripted by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster. The cast includes a very young Kim Cattrall from TV's 'Sex and the City'.

We have seen above that some films have been retitled to suggest similarities with the Friedkin opus. There is also a subcategory of films that seem to have been retitled just for the hell of it! Here are some samples...

VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST (1974) This Spanish horror film, originally titled VUDÚ SANGRIENTO ('Bloody Voodoo') is actually about a mummified Voodoo priest reanimating and causing havoc on an ocean liner.

KUNG FU EXORCIST (1976) This obscure film from Hong Kong features Kathy Leen (her only credit) fighting against an evil Shaolin priest.

EXORCIST MASTER (1992) Nearly twenty years after THE EXORCIST came this Taiwanese action comedy, originally titled KUI MOH DO JEUNG, which actually features a kung fu master’s battle against vampires in a Chinese village.

As well as being a fertile source for numerous rip-offs, THE EXORCIST movies also had an influence on similar projects which, while different in tone and incident, owe much to the success of the original film in making 'horror' mainstream.

In particular, it paved the way for other religious terrors, in particular Richard Donner's THE OMEN (1976) which has various thematic similarities: a well-to-do family with a troubled child, the intervention of the Catholic Church, a troubled priest (Patrick Troughton, who doesn’t last long) and a final battle between good and evil. Like THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN was a huge hit, and would eventually spawn three sequels and a remake. In turn, THE OMEN inspired its own quota of imitations and rip-offs, the most notable of which ia probably Alberto de Martino’s HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) with Kirk Douglas and Simon Ward – but that’s another story!

Another successful series (and also 'based on fact') is the AMITYVILLE sequence of movies, beginning with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) which spawned a whole raft of sequels, beginning with AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982), in which a boy is possessed by demons and slaughters his entire family (a rather tasteless fictionalisation of the story of Ronald de Feo, who did indeed kill his parents and siblings in the Amityville house). In the film, the troubled youth literally turns into a bug-eyed demon in the climactic exorcism sequence.

Later sequels included AMITYVILLE 3D (1983), which added an extra dimension to the visuals if not to the characters. Other entries in the series focus on possessed objects supposedly from the original house, such as a haunted clock in AMITYVILLE: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992) and culminating in the most recent offering, AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996)! In 2005, the original AMITYVILLE HORROR was re-made, sticking closer to the 'true' story and featuring Ryan Reynolds as the possessed father and Kevin Baker Hall as Father Callaway.

Another high class horror was AUDREY ROSE (1977), based on Frank De Felitta’s novel in which Anthony Hopkins' character Elliot tries to convince a couple (John Beck and Marsha Mason) that their daughter (Susan Swift) is the reincarnation of Audrey Rose, Elliot’s deceased child. Here the person possessed is Elliot, who spirals out of control, leading to a shocking climax.

More recently, we have had STIGMATA in 1999, in which a young woman suffering from the wounds of Christ is possessed by the spirit of a dead priest, and is used as a vessel to spread the Gospel of Thomas, which the Vatican will do anything to suppress, including sending out 'hit squads'! (Somebody should have told the film-makers that the heretical Gospel of Thomas is not suppressed at all, and has been published in translation in 1959.)

A reappraisal of EXORCIST II by John and Paul Rowlands.

John C. Kerr started life as a graphic designer before mutating into a film archivist. He has had a passion for cinema ever since seeing Disney and 007 as a child. John has a Diploma in Film Studies, and although originally from Manchester, is now based in London.